Uzbek Pilaf, make a lot or none at all

The preparation of pilaf — as any centrepiece of national cuisine and social life — consists of many details, without which everything falls apart and becomes meaningless.

The homeland of pilaf, or plov, is Uzbekistan. Back in Soviet times, when the country was part of the USSR, pilaf became a ubiquitous dish everywhere, including, of course, Russia. Today the chief ideologues and popularizers of Uzbek cuisine naturally come from Uzbekistan itself, for instance, Stalik Khankishiev. It is from his books that Russians learn how to cook this complex dish.

No one knows for sure exactly how many dishes go by the name of “Uzbek pilaf.” In terms of both appearance and taste, pilaf from Bukhara is completely unlike the variety made in, say, Andijan or Tashkent. Moreover, if two next-door neighbors were to cook pilaf, the result might look very different, even if they used the same ingredients. What’s more, every chef believes his or her pilaf to be “correct.”

Pilaf is often prepared in the open countryside at the dacha, for several reasons. First, pilaf should be cooked in a large pot or cauldron, known locally as a qazan, which, like a charcoal brazier, can only be set up outside. Moreover, pilaf has a highly distinctive aroma — lamb with spices — and whereas in the country it dissipates in no time, in an apartment block it tends to linger. Third, because of the size of the pot and the fairly intricate procedure, "pilaf for one" is an absurd notion. Make a lot or none at all, otherwise why bother getting your hands dirty? And a whole cauldron-full can only be eaten up at the dacha, where you can arrange a get-together with friends or family, or treat the neighbors.

If someone gobbles down too much pilaf (it can easily happen!) and he’s having difficulty breathing, give him finely chopped, washed onions sprinkled with vinegar and a glass of green tea. And the day after, a strong cup of black tea with lots of sugar and no breakfast is just what the doctor ordered.

The preparation of pilaf — as any centrepiece of national cuisine and social life — consists of many details, without which everything falls apart and becomes meaningless. One of the main components is the aforementioned cauldron. Material matters more than authenticity. Therefore, instead of buying one down the market, where you’ve no idea what it’s made of, get hold of a cast-iron wok made by a reputable firm — any will do, so long as it’s the right size for your purposes.

lamb ribs -  8 pcs

lamb chops - 1 kg

tail fat - 400 g

long-grain rice- 1.5 kg

carrots - 1 kg

chili - 3 pcs

onion - 3 pcs

garlic - 3 pcs

cumin, barberry

salt, pepper

This is how we make it:

1) Cooking pilaf takes quite a while, so it’s not a bad idea to start early. Let’s cut the carrot. First dice it like so, then a bit smaller.

2) We need to wash the rice and steep for a couple of hours.

3) Pilaf should be cooked in a remarkable piece of cookware called a qazan, or cauldron. First in goes the tail fat. When the fat turns to crackling, we take it out and add a little vegetable oil.

4) Throw in the ribs. Let them fry for a few minutes and take away. Then add the onion. When the onion turns crisp, we add the chops. When the meat is nicely done, add the carrots and give them 15 minutes to soften.

5) The main seasoning is called cumin, which we’ll sprinkle in now with barberry and salt. Put the ribs back in the cauldron — the chops we fried earlier. We also add whole garlic cloves and chili pods. Pour in some water, so that everything's covered.

6) After 40 minutes we'll fish out the chili peppers, so that it’s not too hot.

7) And we’ll add the rice. It should be about one centimeter below the water level. Turn up the heat to bring it to the boil that bit quicker. As soon as it’s all evaporated and absorbed, switch off the cooker, and let it stand for half an hour. The final task is to stir the pilaf and serve up in a large dish.

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